Subscribe to our InfoBytes Blog weekly newsletter and other publications for news affecting the financial services industry.
On September 21, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York dismissed allegations against two entities affiliated with a national bank, and a trust acting as trustee of one of the entities, ruling that a plaintiff’s “state-law usury claims are expressly preempted by the [National Banking Act].” The court noted that, “[e]ven before the OCC issued its rule clarifying that interest permissible before a transfer remains permissible after the transfer, [the plaintiff’s] claims would have been preempted” because the national bank “continues to possess an ‘interest in the account.’” The plaintiff contended he was charged usurious interest rates that exceeded New York’s interest rate cap on unsecured credit card loans originated by the national bank. According to the opinion, one of the entities contracted with the bank to service the credit card loans, with the bank retaining ownership of the accounts. The plaintiff argued that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit’s decision in Madden v. Midland Funding LLC (covered by a Buckley Special Alert) supported his claims against the affiliated entities, but the court disagreed, ruling that the national bank retained interest in the loans, which included the right to “change various terms and conditions” as well as interest rates.
On August 12, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York dismissed usury claims against a lender, concluding that lenders licensed in New York can charge interest rates up to 25 percent on loans under $25,000. According to the opinion, a consumer received a check in the mail in the amount of $2,539 from a licensed lender under Article IX of New York Banking Law, with terms requiring repayment at an annual interest rate of 24.99 percent, if the consumer cashed the check. The consumer cashed the check, agreeing to the loan terms. After failing to repay the debt in full, the consumer filed a complaint against the lender asserting various claims, including that the interest rate is unenforceable under New York General Obligations Law (GOL) § 5-511 because it exceeds 16 percent. The lender moved to dismiss the action.
The court agreed with the lender on the usurious claim, concluding that as a licensed lender in New York, the lender is “authorized to extend loans of $25,000 or less with interest rates up to 25[percent]” which is “the limit set by New York’s criminal usury statute, New York Penal Law § 190.40.” The court cited to NYDFS interpretations, stating that unlicensed nonbank lenders may not charge more than a 16 percent annual interest rate, but lenders that “obtain an Article IX license  may charge interest up to 25[percent] per annum on the small loans.” Because the lender was licensed under Article IX in the state of New York, the lender “was permitted to loan $2,539.00 to [the consumer] at an agreed-upon annual interest rate of 24.99[percent] without violating GOL § 5-511.”
On June 26, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia approved a preliminary settlement to resolve putative class allegations against an online payday lending company and related entities (defendants) accused of issuing high interest loans through a “rent-a-tribe” lending operation. According to the class’s second amended complaint, the defendants’ “rent-a-tribe” operation was an “attempt to circumvent state and federal law by issuing high interest loans in the name of a Native American tribal business entity that purports to be shielded by the principle of tribal sovereign immunity.” The class—which consists of borrowers from throughout the U.S.—alleged that the defendants provided “financing and various lending functions” carrying “extortionately high interest rates for short-term loans” that were “far beyond legal limits,” and that the unlawful interest rates were not disclosed to borrowers during the application process. Additionally, the class alleged that the defendants failed to provide key loan terms or misrepresented the loan terms, including repayment schedules, finance charges, and the total amount of payments due. Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants will pay a $65 million cash payment, cancel $76 million in high-interest loans, and provide other non-monetary relief.
On June 25, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York entered a stipulated final judgment and order to resolve allegations concerning an allegedly fraudulent and deceptive student loan debt relief scheme. According to the New York attorney general, the defendants allegedly sold debt-relief services to student loan borrowers that violated several New York laws, including the state’s usury, banking, credit repair, and telemarketing laws, as well as the Credit Repair Organizations Act, the Telemarketing Sales Rule, and TILA. The order imposes a $5.5 million judgment against the majority of the defendants, which will be partially suspended after certain defendants pay $250,000. The AG’s case against one of the defendants, however, will continue. The order also prohibits the defendants from engaging in unlawful acts or deceptive practices such as false advertising, and, among other things, imposes compliance and reporting requirements and permanently bans the defendants from offering, providing, or selling any debt relief products and services or collecting payments from consumers related to these products and services.
On June 5, the District of Columbia attorney general filed a complaint against an online lender for alleged violations of the District of Columbia Consumer Protection Procedures Act (CPPA) by marketing high-costs loans carrying interest rates exceeding D.C.’s interest rate caps. The complaint alleges that the lender offers two loan products to D.C. residents: (i) an installment loan with an annual percentage rate (APR) range of 99-149 percent; and (ii) a second loan product with an undisclosed APR that ranges between 129-251 percent. However, interest rates in D.C. are capped at 24 percent for loans with the rate expressed in the contract (loans that do not state an express interest rate in the contract are capped at six percent), and licensed money lenders that exceed these limits are in violation of the CPPA. According to the AG, the lender—who has allegedly never possessed a money lending license in D.C.—violated the CCPA by (i) unlawfully misrepresenting it is allowed to offer loans in D.C. and failing to disclose or adequately disclose that its loans contain APRs in excess of D.C. usury limits; (ii) engaging in unfair and unconscionable practices through misleading marketing efforts; and (iii) violating D.C. usury laws. In addition, the lender allegedly violated District of Columbia Municipal Regulations Title 16 by lending money in D.C. without being licensed. The complaint seeks a permanent injunction, restitution, and civil penalties. In addition, the complaint asks the court to order the lender’s loans unenforceable and void.
On Acting Comptroller of the Currency Brian Brooks’ first day in that role, the OCC issued a final rule designed to effectively reverse the Second Circuit’s 2015 Madden v. Midland Funding decision. As published in yesterday’s Federal Register, the rule, titled “Permissible Interest on Loans that are Sold, Assigned, or Otherwise Transferred,” provides that “[i]nterest on a loan that is permissible under [12 U.S.C. 85 for national bank or 12 U.S.C 1463(g)(1) for federal thrifts] shall not be affected by the sale, assignment, or other transfer of the loan.” This rule contrasts with the Madden decision’s conclusion that a purchaser of a loan originated by a national bank could not charge interest at the rate permissible for the bank if that rate would be impermissible under the lower usury cap applicable to the purchaser. More specifically, the Madden court found that subjecting assignees to state usury law under these circumstances does not “significantly interfere” with the exercise of national bank powers -- the general preemption standard set forth in the Dodd Frank Act.
On May 22, the New York attorney general (NYAG) announced a proposed settlement with three student loan debt relief companies and two of the companies’ executive officers (collectively, “defendants”), resolving allegations that the defendants participated in a broader scheme that fraudulently, deceptively, and illegally marketed, sold, and financed student debt relief services to consumers nationwide. As previously covered by InfoBytes, the September 2018 complaint alleged that a total of nine student loan debt relief companies, along with their financing company, and the two individuals violated several federal and state consumer protection statutes, including the Telemarketing Sales Rule, New York General Business Law, the state’s usury cap on interest rates, disclosure requirements under TILA, and the Federal Credit Repair Organization Act. Specifically, the NYAG asserted, among other things, that the defendants (i) sent direct mail solicitations to consumers that deceptively appeared to be from a governmental agency or an entity affiliated with a government agency; (ii) charged consumers over $1,000 for services that were available for free; (iii) requested upfront payments in violation of federal and state credit repair and debt relief laws; and (iv) charged usurious interest rates.
If approved by the court, the proposed consent judgment would require the five defendants to pay $250,000 of a $5.5 million total judgment, due to their inability to pay. Additionally, the defendants are also permanently banned from advertising, marketing, promoting, offering for sale, or selling any type of debt relief product or service—or from assisting others in doing the same. Additionally, the defendants must request that any credit reporting agency to which the defendants reported consumer information in connection with the student loan debt relief services remove the information from those consumers’ credit files. The defendants also agreed not to sell, transfer, or benefit from the personal information collected from borrowers.
The NYAG previously settled with two other defendants in February, covered by InfoBytes here.
On March 30, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed multiple orders issued by a district court in favor of an assignee mortgage holder (plaintiff), concluding that a borrower (defendant) was liable for interest at a default rate of 24 percent per year. After the defendant fell behind on his mortgage payments, the debt ultimately was assigned to the plaintiff, who initiated a foreclosure action. The plaintiff alleged a default date of February 1, 2008, and contended that the defendant was liable for interest at the 24 percent per year default rate. The district court granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the motion was supported by record evidence and that defendant’s affirmative defenses were meritless. The defendant’s motion for reconsideration was denied. A court-appointed Referee issued a report calculating the amount due on the note and mortgage, which the defendant appealed on several grounds, arguing, among other things, that (i) the plaintiff is a “debt collection agency” under New York City Administrative Code, and is precluded from taking action without being licensed; (ii) the 24 percent default interest rate applied by the Referee violates New York’s civil usury stature (which caps interest rates at 16 percent); and (iii) “the Referee erred by applying the default interest rate from the date of default rather than from the date of acceleration.”
On appeal, the 2nd Circuit concluded that, regardless of whether the plaintiff allegedly failed to obtain a debt collection agency license, the plaintiff was not necessarily barred from foreclosing on the mortgage and collecting the debt at issue. The appellate court also determined that New York’s civil usury statute “‘do[es] not apply to defaulted obligations . . . where the terms of the mortgage and note impose a rate of interest in excess of the statutory maximum only after default or maturity.” The appellate court further held that the mortgage note and agreement clearly stated that a lender is “entitled to interest at the [d]efault [r]ate . . . from the time of said default. . . .”
On February 25, the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia granted preliminary approval of an $18.5 million class action settlement to resolve allegations including violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, state usury and lending laws, and unjust enrichment against a financial technology company and a tribal corporation (defendants). According to the complaint, the company evaded state law usury limits by attempting to use the sovereignty of an Indian tribe (“rent-a-tribe”) in order to issue payday loans carrying annual percentage interest rates as high as 460 percent. While the defendants have denied any wrongdoing, they have agreed to, among other things, (i) cancel loans originated during the class period “on the basis that the debt is disputed”; (ii) no longer sell any outstanding loans and cease all collection activity; (iii) contact all consumer reporting agencies to request the permanent removal of any missed payment marks on loans originated during the class period; (iv) no longer sell class members’ personal identifying information to third parties; and (v) establish an $18.5 million fund to go towards costs, service awards, attorneys’ fees, and cash awards to class members.
On February 21, the Maryland attorney general announced the issuance of a final order against a vehicle title lender, its owner, and related businesses (defendants) for making unlicensed and usurious consumer loans in violation of the Maryland Consumer Protection Act. According to the AG’s Consumer Protection Division (Division), the defendants offered consumers short-term, high-interest loans secured by a consumer’s motor vehicle title. The defendants allegedly kept the vehicle’s title, and, if the consumer failed to make a payment on the loan, would repossess or sell the vehicle. The Division claimed that these transactions, which the defendants claimed were pawn transactions, were actually consumer loans under Maryland law and carried interest rates of 360 percent. Under the terms of the final order, all loans the defendants made to Maryland consumers are void and unenforceable. The defendants are also ordered to, among other things, permanently cease engaging in unlicensed lending activities in the state and may not make loans that exceed the maximum allowed rate of interest, charge fees that are not permitted under state law, repossess secured vehicles or other personal property, or operate without requisite surety bonds. In addition, the defendants may not repossess consumers’ vehicles and must return any repossessed vehicles still in their possession. Finally, the defendants must pay at least $2.2 million in restitution to affected consumers, a $1.2 million civil penalty, a $50,000 claims procedure fee, and $73,000 in costs.
- Hank Asbill to discuss "The federal fraud sentencing guidelines: It's time to stop the madness" at a New York Criminal Bar Association webinar
- Buckley Webcast: From there to here – Anticipating comparative redlining claims
- Daniel P Stipano to moderate "Digital identity: The next gen of CIP" at the American Bankers Association/American Bar Association Financial Crimes Enforcement Conference
- Buckley Webcast: New sheriff in town – AML and sanctions under the new administration
- Tim Lange to discuss "Impact of Covid-19 on your business" at the California Mortgage Bankers Association Legal Issues & Regulatory Compliance Conference